Lustre’s dream world expands to more atmospheric heights on four-movement opus ‘Blossom’

Lustre_photoLush, beautiful imagery is not something totally foreign to metal landscapes anymore. To say that what we consider and embrace in this style of music’s multiple sub-genres is expansive might be a bit of an understatement. But I think it speaks to many listeners’ diversity and ability to absorb and enjoy many types of sounds.

With bands such as Les Discrets and Alcest adding more sensitive, atmospheric tones to metal’s landscapes, more color, air-flushed arrangements have become common. Another band that has changed the way we see and hear metal is Lustre, the one-man project that is the brainchild of Nachtzeit who has been making mind-expanding, fantasy-level music ever since the project’s formation in 2008. While skating along the outer edges of black metal, Lustre’s sound has grown more organically soothing and image-conjuring as time has gone on. This band’s music really isn’t here to light your heathen heart ablaze and have you seeing fire raging in your own eyes. Instead, it is designed to capture you and take you somewhere you never dreamed, where your imagination can take flight. Along the way, the music has it barbs and waves of power, but that’s more one element of a larger picture rather than the overall point.

Lustre - BLOSSOM - ArtworkLustre is back in our stratosphere with “Blossom,” the project’s fifth record to date and one of its most adventurous yet. The four movements that stretch over 33 minutes are as calming and tranquil as anything Nachtzeit has created so far, but fret not if you think you’ve been abandoned. Far-off roars and displays of energy do color in some of the corners and satisfy any urge you have to feel something metallic. But again, that’s not the point to this record or any of Lustre’s efforts, and you’re far better off letting go of any expectations and floating off into the clouds with this music.

“Part 1” of the piece begins with some New Age-style trickling, setting you at a sense of mystical wonder before some power bursts in. The melody traipses over the length of the cut, tying it all together, and wild cries can be heard in the background, washed out by the surrounding sounds. The keys glimmer like the soundtrack to a fantasy film, with spacey voices swirling through that feel hypnotic, as well as a finish that concludes in the air. “Part 2” begins in that same expansive space, eventually gushing open and delivering lush melodies. Vocals coloring the background emerge, with the overall spine of the song enrapturing and a doom fury falling to the ground. But it’s not doom in a sooty sense; more of in a darkening thunderstorm feel. The track hits a trancey high, with all elements smooshing together and eventually bringing this giant vision to an end.

“Part 3” spill in with watery keyboards and gazey power that feels like sunbeams cutting through a thick morning fog. A similar melody that snakes through the rest of the album shows its face in a varied form, with the music glimmering and shining brightly amid the murk. The vocals feel more feral than they do elsewhere, giving this a call-of-the-wild aura, and later calm permeates, with steady drumming driving, the dramatic tension giving way, and the back end of the song releasing you slowly. The final section “Part 4” feels solemn and mildly stormy at the start, with an orchestral sense to it all, synth waves wafting overhead and covering the area like a thick blanket, and the song eventually letting go of its grip. You might find yourself staring at the sky as you watch this whole orb of sound float away and out of your dream world.

Nachtzeit’s dimensions continue to expand with every record, and “Blossom” is no exception. Lustre’s universe doesn’t look like many other metal artists’ nor does it intend to, and it’s great having this project alive and continually adding to our dreamscapes. Everyone needs an escape now and again, and Lustre provides the perfect pathway for that journey.

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Vermörd make hellish impact, unleash black and death metal on ‘Dawn of the Black Harvest’

VermordLast year, a big deal was made when Unlocking the Truth, a young metal band, was signed to a multi-million dollar deal by a major record label. One read of the story howled “publicity stunt” to me, and now a year or so later, there’s hardly anything coming out of that camp other than carefully planned interviews and them wanting out of the deal.

I’m not knocking the band. Obviously they have talent, and they’re kids. Who doesn’t want to sign a huge record deal at that age and make money? It just felt all icky seeing these kids exposed, and it seemed the only real reason they were made a huge media deal is because they’re kids who can play instruments well. That brings me to Vermörd, a blackened death metal band out of Maryland whose members range in age from 16-19. And they fucking rip. Hard. For real. They play a brand of metal that harkens back to the early ’90s, when they weren’t even alive, and they play with such a passion and intensity, it’s stunning to hear them. And here’s the thing: It really doesn’t matter how young they are. Their debut “Dawn of the Black Harvest” would be good no matter how old they are because it’s intense as hell. It’s a great sounding, amazingly well-executed record, and the fact that they’re so young is more a side note. Young musicians made this, sure, but the important thing is they crush skulls!

Vermord coverThe band itself is comprised of vocalist Zach Thomsen, whose ability to toggle between black scream and death grunt is astounding; guitarists Brad Weddle and Yianni Papaeracleous; bassist Alec Klimm; and drummer Zak Kempler. The guys dig deep into sounds made a part of metal’s DNA by bands such as Emperor, Dissection, Mayhem, Decapitated, and groups of that ilk, and they do it with incredible savagery. I recall Noel from Grimoire, who smartly signed up this band and is releasing “Black Harvest” digitally and on CD and cassette, sending me their Soundcloud files early in the year to get a taste of this record, and I instantly was blown away. Hearing the whole record, that promise I heard at the turn of 2015 is fully paid off on this great collection.

“Disciples of Shakhburz” opens this six-track, 21-minute scorcher as a sort of introduction piece, a synth-led instrumental that chills with its dark orchestration and whets your appetite for the carnage ahead. That starts to pay off heavily on “Plagued Eyes From the Scrolls of Xafmirtas” that is built on huge riffs, decimating drums, and an ultra-black atmosphere delivered steadily by the fierce shrieks that erupt from Thomsen’s throat. There are some great melodies among the absolute bloodshed, and at points, the band gallops heavily, as if they have no other mission but destruction. The song even has an uptick toward the end, as the guitars reach a boiling point, and the band drives this thing to delirium. “Ophite Cultus Satanas” rips open, with the guitars setting everything ablaze and the vocals switching from demonic to acid reflux coarse. The bass has a bigger presence here, cutting its steely way, and the final moments are dressed in grim fury. Killer cut.

“Encrimsoned Baptism” has guitars sprawling all over, leaning into classic death and thrash and making a gigantic explosion. In fact, some of the music here dips into prog, in the deadliest possible manner, and the cymbals take a particularly rough beating. The song later simmers in pure death metal hell, with sections going for the throat and the vocals dripping with ill intent and conviction. “Derodidymus” is a smasher and the song wisely chosen as the first one to be shared with the Internet at large. It is massive in scope and so violently played, with the lead guitars generating suffocating smoke and the pace sounding unforgiving. But just when you think the song couldn’t possibly have another gear, the band proves you wrong, unleashing a swaggering, Earth-decimating burst that might have you throwing furniture all over your living room. When that moment hits, and you’ll know it, it’s all rules tossed out the window. Closer “Dark Harvest” is the curveball of the group with moodier, cleaner tones worked into the mix, a feeling of sorrow permeating. Yet the vocals remaining as vile and animalistic as ever. It’s a nice change of pace, proof the band has more tricks up their sleeve that they’ll reveal when the time is right. It’s a really strong finisher, with the guitars sounding great once again, and as the thing reaches its final resting place, it rises up to deliver one more blast, just for good measure. What an awesome finish.

Yeah, it’s impressive Vermörd’s members are so young and already this good. But that’s not the reason “Dawn of the Black Harvest” is such a toppling effort. No, it’s because of the music and the band’s performance. If in a few years this band doesn’t have a higher profile and isn’t recording for a major metal indie label (no offense to Grimoire, who we love!), then someone isn’t paying attention. This very well could be metal’s future here bleeding all over the underground and creating music this powerful on their first damn recording. Pay attention to Vermörd, because soon they’ll be the real deal dominating what sprawls out of metal scribes mouths, your truly included.

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Do Swedes Tribulation live up to massive hype machine powering new ‘The Children of the Night’?

TribulationEvery year, we are greeted with a spate of metal releases that seem universally praised and are pre-ordained as one of the current 12 months’ best. You know the ones: Song premieres at every site you visit, millions of scribes chiming in to sing the band’s praises, the relentless press cycle reiterating said viewpoints. Hey, Meat Mead Metal often plays a part of those giant choruses.

Today, we have one of the year’s most anticipated new metal releases by a band that’s been seen as one of the up-and-coming leaders of the future. I was absolutely floored by Tribulation’s last record “The Formulas of Death,” that was unleashed in 2013. It was when that record arrived and was absorbed that the incredible promise this band holds became clear. Here was a record that took death and black metal into entirely different terrain (as like-minded groups such as Morbus Chron and Execration also did), and it had an imagination and creativity you just don’t get from every band. This record has stuck with me ever since and gets regular rotation in my ears, so quite obviously, the arrival of their new, third album “The Children of the Night” had me overly excited and counting down the days until the new music was in my possession.

Tribulation coverI try to steer clear of album reviews of things I haven’t written about yet, but seeing preview stories isn’t something from which you really can’t shield yourself. The effusive praise for this Swedish band—bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson, guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hulten, and drummer Jakob Ljungberg—and this new album is impossible to avoid. There have been more than a few calls for album of the year, and the response to the advance singles people have heard has been overly positive. I’m not purposely trying to go against the grain at all, but the record isn’t resonating with me like it is so many others. I like the music. It’s a very well-played, smartly written document, and it’s catchy as hell. I’m just not feeling it moving my mind and soul like their previous work did, and the direction they take here doesn’t make me excited. They have pulled away from the death and black terrain and are more of a retro-sounding outfit with gruff vocals. There are a lot of bands playing the same type of music as Tribulation now, so for me, they’ve left the stratosphere of special and have come back to Earth. Instead of this being a mind-blowing, year-altering release, it’s just a really good album. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The album does get off to an excellent start with “Strange Gateways Beckon,” packed with infectious guitar melodies you won’t soon shake, a fine vocal performance from Andersson, and a death rock feel that reeks of promise. “Melancholia” also has its strong points, veering down the Mercyful Fate/In Solitude path (to mix old and new examples), with a bit of a punk rock bend as well. The keys glimmer, the guitars drive, and this also is a pretty fine track. “In the Dreams of the Dead” has a blurry, clean open before the power kicks in, vocals are delivered as raspy growls, and a dreamy atmosphere sits behind the track, giving off a pretty cool fog. This also is one of the many examples where the band bites on old Maiden-style riffs, which they do pretty well. “Winds” is calculated and stormy, with proggy keys zapping and noises whirring in the dark. It’s not a bad song, but it also isn’t one of their standout cuts. “Sjalaflykt” is an instrumental number that trickles in ominously and eventually gains steam, with eerie, haunting melodies, and a nighttime psychedelic aura that sends chills.

The second half of the record begins with “The Motherhood of God” that has made it rounds on various sites and blogs, and it’s one of the strongest cuts on this album. The riffs sting, the vocals are catchy and a serious strong point, and it’s them putting their best classic metal foot forward, showing just how strong this band can be. But it’s a slow descent from that point, as the last four songs sound fine and aren’t bad at all, but they don’t elevate the album. “Strains of Horror” again has a vintage touch to it, which sounds good but doesn’t set the band apart. The vocals are whispery and creepy in spots, with nicely textured guitars and some cold piano notes filling in at the end. “Holy Libations” has a neat, jazzy open, with well-time guitar lines slipping in and dramatic melodies bursting. There’s actually a killer hook to this one on the chorus, but it kind of gets buried underneath everything so doesn’t really get to show its swagger. It’s a shame because, if that part was featured more prominently, it really raises this one. “Cauda Pavonis” is a brief, almost whimsically dark interlude that sets the stage for 7:04 closer “Music From the Other,” which takes a slow-driving, evil journey. This one hammers and pounds, with gurgly vocals, slurry lead guitars, and a cosmic feel coloring in the last minutes of the song, ending the record on a pretty positive note.

It probably sounds weird to say I’m disappointed with a record I actually enjoy, but to me, Tribulation doesn’t really pay off their enormous potential on this album. I really wish the band would have continued to explore the outer reaches of death and black metal instead of evening out their sound and treading similar paths other bands before them already have. Their work before “The Children of the Night” really set them apart from the pack, but this record pulls them back toward normality. Obviously I’m in the minority in that viewpoint, but I see this record as a chance the band could have taken to establish their greatness instead of falling short of the mark. I really wanted to walk away absolutely blown away by this album, but instead I hear a record that isn’t a slam dunk to make my Top 40 of 2015.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Crowhurst’s noisy evolution into doom pays weird dividends on new record

CrowhurstThere is plenty of good heavy music out there, enough to fill this site five days a week. There are countless new releases every week, which gives me plenty to remain occupied and often leaves me scrambling to shoehorn everything in, only increasing my stress level even more than it already is. And mine is naturally set at freak out.

But despite having a lot of good new music entering my brain and damaging my hearing each week, there aren’t always special records I know for certain will stick with me and influence me far into the year. But you know those when you hear them, and one of them for me is Crowhurst’s stunning, time-forced-still new record that is practically impossible to describe. Yet I will use my words to give that task my best shot. This band certainly has metal at its base, the doom variant if we need to be more granular, but they branch out to so many different levels. There is noise, post-rock, black metal, shoegaze, you name it, and all is pulled off with remarkable effectiveness. And it’s not just meandering between sounds. Generally the band sets a tone, and from there, they organically go exploring, taking you all sorts of places you’d never expect. If you’re a fan of bands as varied as ISIS, Neurosis, Swans, Atriarch, Shining, and groups of that ilk, you need to get with this.

Crowhurst coverNoise freak/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jay Gambit has helmed this project from the start, beginning as more of an experimentally inspired group that took on collaborators and put out a shit ton of content. Seriously, peruse the Crowhurst Bandcamp page, and you’ll find enough content to keep you busy for a week. The music and scope has grown exponentially over time, leading us to where we are today. For this record, Gambit is joined by guitarists Brian Reis and Johan Curie; bassist Spencer Wessels; and drummer Eric Soth to create not only a formidable live act, but one that knows how to demolish castle walls from inside the studio. The band worked with Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Wreck & Reference) on this killer, and they’re putting this bastard out on all kind of formats, including freaking 8-track.

“Penumbra” starts the record and gives you a bit of a hint as to what’s ahead. This instrumental cut has thick bass, buzzing guitar lines, and scratchy noise, and it runs right into “A Precipice of Stone,” a track that basically bursts open like a storm cloud. The music is harsh but also dashed with watercolors, as Gambit’s voice unleashes a sense of panic that arrests the senses. From the pits of atmospheric sludge, the band then dives right into a bruising black metal-style assault, with guitars reaching out for contract and anguished cries pounding home the drama. “Judgement” trickles in clean and cold, giving it a deathrock personality, but then terrifying howls and warm, gazey guitars create the thick, impenetrable force field, and the feeling that you’re watching everything burning down is hard to shake. The band plays with the pace a bit, smearing the last section of the song with soot, and pained cries send this thing on its way. “It Is the Mercy” is the heart-stopper of the bunch, with Gambit stretching out his dark, dreary singing voice, making it feel like you’re buried underneath a million tons of gothic ash. But the pace then quickens, the approach gets more aggressive, and some of the most forceful growling on the record trips you up and begins to devour. The drums crash, the music crescendos along with the vocals, and the final moment drench you like a chilly, damp spring rain.

“Black Oceans” begins with gazey guitars and doom clouds, heavy and dark mauling, and vocals that pierce. Weird wails and melodies cause your mind to twist and turn, creating a vortex of strangeness that claims you and refuses to release its grip. That sense remains in place until just a couple of minutes remain, and the bottom drops out (unloading tons of cinders on your path). The band finds an altogether new level of devastation, with noises squalling, fires blazing, and all forces coming together to create a terrible thunder. “Languorous Void” explodes, with the band reaching into their doom-infested bag of death metal tricks, feeling a bit like Unearthly Trance. There is misery and violence, an onslaught of drubbing, and a finish that works to deliver as many heavy blows as it can before it fades away. Closer “Luna Falsata” is the longest of them all and is a real treat, as Eugene Robinson (Oxbow) lends his deranged, psychologically savaged voice to the track. The passage feels like it originates in the middle of a solar storm, with noises coating the senses with electricity, and Robinson’s voice getting an otherworldly, alien effect. The track feels like the end is here. Robinson appears to be delivering a final eulogy for mankind, with misery at a high point and a foreboding aura stretching out and infecting. As the song reaches its final resting place, so does Robinson’s psyche, as he has a total breakdown as the sounds around him also fold in on themselves, creating a sort of black hole that tears everything apart.

Crowhurst have made an incredible transformation over the years, and their new record—almost like a new beginning—is one of those special albums I cited earlier that do not come along all the time. What’s even more exciting than the music on these seven tracks is to think of where the band will be when their next record comes to pass. That’s something on which we can only guess, and I’d imagine even in the darkest, most ambitious sections of his mind, Gambit doesn’t know either. That way, it’ll be fun for all of us as this band shapeshifts into new future forms.

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Horrifying dream sequences unfurl on captivating debut Akhlys record ‘The Dreaming I’

AkhlysI have a really poor time remembering my dreams, an issue that has plagued me my entire life. I can remember maybe a handful of lucid dreams over the course of my existence, and none really stand out as anything profound or out of the ordinary that it deserves repeating or analysis.

My wife wakes up and winds up remembering tons of things, and although she gets bad ones now and then, she seems to go on these journeys that I wish I could find myself taking each night. Naas Alcameth, one of the minds behind the brilliant black metal band Nightbringer, apparently takes that even further, claiming periods of vivid dreaming filled with voices and shadows from beyond this plane and seemingly experiencing something far different than just his mind telling him stories. With that in mind, Alcameth (along with drummer Ain) gave birth to his new project Akhlys (meaning a gateway upon gateways) so he can open up his horrific visions for the world to see and translate them into his dark, spellbinding black metal. The style can be considered kind of a relative to Nightbringer, but there are plenty of differences between the two. That’ll be clear with one listen.

Akhlys coverThe project’s first piece of imagery is called “The Dreaming I” and is a five-track passageway to the beyond. It’s terrifying and surreal in a way words can’t really justify, and the only way to fully understand what’s at hand is to go into the portal yourself and see where the mind takes you. In fact, the information that accompanies the press details describe the tracks as five tunnels, and it really can’t be stated any better than that. You enter into each section, go into unlit territories you can’t see or predict, and see where you come out on the other side. It’s harrowing, but it’s a trip you’ll be happy you took, even if it scars you.

“Breath and Levitation” is the first curtain opened, and at 9:01, it’s a pretty grueling confrontation. It’s weird and mystical at the start, almost like the scene is unfurling before you, and then it tears open with swirling guitars and fits of madness. The vocals are vicious and full of anguish, with a storming feel permeating the atmosphere and a great crash that suddenly stops on a dime only to reopen into a savage, mystifying pace that rushes to the finish. “Tide of Oneiring Darkness” slips into a space haze, with winds whipping up and leading into gurgling growls and a calculated pace. The trip feels like a dark, rainy nightmare, complete with animalistic shrieks and blistering chaos. “Consummation” is the longest passage at 16:52, and it takes time to stretch out and breathe a bit. Clouds of sound settle over, threatening violence, and a few minutes later, that’s exactly what arrives. The guitars feel warped and deranged, like you’re seeing a scene in front of you a conscious version of yourself never could comprehend. The bulk of the track feels like a smothering, suffocating hell, with melody intertwined into the seas of blood, hypnotic blasts stymying you and keeping the eyes rolling into the back of your head, and an arresting closing sequence that sounds almost liturgical, in the darkest way possible.

“The Dreaming Eye” is no slouch either at 10:07, with the ill intent bubbling and simmering beneath the surface, threatening to break out and burn you. From out of the fog comes a dynamic explosion of power, with mean and tortured vocals mangling your nerve endings, a black assault raining down and making the path in front of you slick and muddy, and damaged playing aiming to see that mental harm has been done. The back end goes from dreamy and misty to psychologically harmful, sounding fearsome once again and eventually bleeding out. The closer “Into the Indigo Abyss” is an instrumental path that goes a tick over four minutes and is packed with misery-inducing ambiance. The music might make it feel like you’re losing the battle with your consciousness, and then you’re on a full-speed plummet right into the deepest caverns of hell, where you will remain forever. Or at least until you wake up.

Alcameth creates a strange, suffocating world on “The Dreaming I,” and considering dreaming seems to be an integral part of his existence, it’s easy to imagine this only being the first chapter in Akhlys’ excursions. This is a record that’s best suited for when you plan to leave the physical plane for whatever sleep or meditation brings you, when you’re most ready to confront the dark forces lurking in the rarely examined reaches of your mind.

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Canadian death maulers Abyss unleash hell, storm of chaos with debut ‘Heretical Anatomy’

AbyssThe past few days have felt like total face and chest demolition in my body. Out comes the tree pollen and on comes to woe, with enough liquid leaving my face that I spent most of the weekend essentially blind. I feel like I’ve been in a demolition derby, and no one has told the other drivers that it’s over yet.

“Heretical Anatomy,” the debut full-length from Canadian death maulers Abyss makes me feel similar. Their music—fast and sudden—blisters you like one of those out-of-control, beaten-to-hell cars, and the way your body will feel after confronting these eights songs won’t make you feel at the height of health. Most of these cuts are in and out in three minutes or less, making it feel like a compact, well-oiled blast of gritty, grinding death metal that’s fully satisfying and also hellaciously put together. This sounds like death metal that came creeping out of the U.S. and U.K. in the early 90s, only informed with modern-day distastes and disgusts designed to make the music as violent and furious as humanly possible.

Abyss coverWhile still a relatively new unit (they formed in 2009), the members of the band have had experience with other destructive units such as Slaughter Strike, Fragile Existence, Lgeion666, Rammer, and many others. Far as we can tell, the band’s members go mostly by simple first names, with David Kristiansen on vocals; Jason and Ethan handling guitar work, quite capably, might I add; Rob on bass and backing vocals; and Max behind the drum kit. If you follow the marching orders of any of the members’ aforementioned bands, as well as units such as Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Extreme Noise Terror, early Napalm Death, and Axis of Advance, chances are this album is going to be right up your bloody alley.

The first strike comes from the title cut, complete with a weird, alien first few seconds before the song tears apart and begins storming hard. The pace is wild and out of control, with Kristiansen’s vocals aiming to maim, the soloing sounding fiery and inspired, and the rest of the troops putting the boots to your chest. “The Atonement” is fast and thashy, with gravelly vocals, lead guitar work that sears, and a vicious ending grind that leaves you in the dust. “Chained to Extinction” is a quick one at 1:40, wasting no time moving forward at a lightning pace and bringing everything into the heart of demolition. The song is fast and guttural, and it takes you right into the mouth of 52-second scorcher “Flesh Cult” that is absolutely seething and does its damage at a breath-taking clip.

“Prophecies of Churning Horror” is punchy and agitated, with the band motoring ahead with zero regards as to what’s in front of them, with the vocals painfully delivered and always gripping. The song ends rather abruptly, paving the way for “Atavistic Decay,” a crunching, stomping mauler that bristles and looks for flesh to grind up. Kristiansen’s vocals are gritty and gruesome here, with the soloing barreling out of the gates and the tempo remaining fast and mean. “Thrall of the Elder Gods” is the longest of the bunch at 5:37, beginning in a murky, doomy cloud and trudging at a calculating, brutal pace. Things eventually get rowdier, with a long section of guitar work adding color, great fires burning and coating your lungs with soot, and a conclusion that sounds both clobbering and insulting, as Kristiansen first clears the blood and mucus from his throat before laughing maniacally. Finisher “Nightmares in Skin” makes the best of its 1:43, bringing down the final remnants of the walls around you with its thunderous assault and outright commitment to total destruction.

“Heretical Anatomy” might not be the longest record of all time, but sometimes less is way, way more. In the case of Abyss, they took the time and care to pack as much vitriol into this eight-track package to last you years, and if this music isn’t enough catharsis for your bruised, wounded psyche, perhaps medication is in order? Abyss don’t strike me as a band trying to score style points or one that hopes to do things as smoothly as possible. Those rough edges and reckless abandon are part of what make this band as vicious as it is.

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Long-hibernating black metal project Il’ithil surfaces with freezing first effort ‘Ia’winde’

Blake Green by Joe Turmes/Visual Arts Collective

Winter has come and mercifully gone from the East Coast of the United States, but part of its grip still lingers here and there. Frosty nights still occur that leave you rushing to cover your plants and vegetables sprouting outside, and there still is a chance that your car’s windshield can be encased in ice when getting up in the morning.

That feeling also permeates when listening to “Ia’winde,” the first release from Il’ithil that, shockingly, has been sitting on the shelf for a few years. If you want music that can frost over your senses with free-sprawling, atmospheric black metal, this album just might be for you. The past few weeks as I’ve been digesting this thing, I can’t help but feel the chills down my spine that make me feel like I’m at the heart of winter, in the middle of a deep freeze from which there is no escape. In fact, one of the most recent journeys I had with this album was during a warm early spring thunderstorm, and I had to go outside after it was done just to make sure the temperatures hadn’t dipped along with the music. That might seem dramatic, but it’s exactly what I did. It remained warm, to my expectations, but it was overwhelming to be affected that way.

Il'ithil coverIl’ithil’s creator is a person you might know, that being Blake Green of the mighty Wolvserpent, as well as other projects Mezektet and Aelter (with whom we will visit in a couple of weeks). This outburst of pure savagery and black metal is some of the heaviest music on the man’s resume, and it’s remained dormant after he recorded the music several years ago. Luckily, Psychic Violence is helping solve that issue by releasing the music on LP, giving Green’s followers a chance to hear him at his blackest, and for consumers of this type of music to experience one of the eeriest, most frigid black metal releases you are bound to stumble upon the first half of this year. It’s but two tracks, lasting a little under a half hour, but it’s damn powerful and something I know I’ll keep visiting long into the warmest months of 2015.

“Winter’s Shadow” opens the record, a 13:21 track with a breezy start, like you’re in the center of a forest just as the eye of the storm is approaching. From there, winds whip, melodies that feel steeped in the Middle Ages erupt, and we’re full bore in blizzard mode, with frosty strains of black metal coming down in sheets, enveloping you and the ground below. The guitars are bendy, furious, and relentless, while the vocals, situated into the background, are wild howls that sound like cries of desperation and wails at natural wonder. A strange haze eventually settles in, with the vocals taking on a creaky, echoey essence not unlike Maelfic of Xasthur, and then things go back into swirling chaos. The pace is both harsh and exciting, and in the final moments, a machine-like ambiance emerges that feels thick and oppressive until it finally fades away.

“Through the Cold Grey Sky” runs a clean 14 minutes, and it develops out of the noise rush of the song that preceded it. That mountain of noise eventually meets up with lush synth that adds streaks of beauty and then a burst of black metal melodies that take the momentum from there. The tempo and music are dizzying and infectious, drawing you into their realm and helping you see colors you’ve never imagined before. The song is thick and rich with melodies that add substance to the madness, with the vocals sounding like howls from the distance and keys coming in to achieve a temporary state of calm. A foggy ambiance makes its presence felt along with the glorious hammering going on, and some warped, rushing sounds create sparks behind the thick, unforgiving storm. The song keeps hammering away, never once letting you up, and remains intense all the way until its final notes.

There’s never been any question that Green is a fantastic, diverse musician, and what he creates on “Ia’winde” is one of his most penetrating, vicious to date. But it also keeps in place his penchant for atmosphere and melodies that absolutely lock you inside its chambers to keep you captive forever. Il’ithil might not have seen much sunlight until now, but we’re all lucky enough to bask in these crushing winds and freezing ambitions long after the snow in our parts of the world have passed and given way to warmth. Those icy tentacles are always there to pull you back.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Foehammer’s lurching funeral doom has hints of swagger on debut EP

FoehammerHow about ending the week with a good, savage beating? We’re talking one where the blows are measured out, delivered with intensity and weight, and that, oddly, might have you begging for more punishment? That always seems to be a good way to end a week full of that kind of thing.

If you’re intrigued, let us introduce you to DC-based doom monsters Foehammer and their gargantuan debut EP that carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. Here, you’ll find three helpings of overflowing funeral doom that is delivered in a calculating manner and seeks to maim and scrape at any mental wounds you might be tucking away. The release accompanying the music cites bands including Grief, Buried at Sea, and Ahab as comparisons, but I also hear a lot of Noothgrush and Thou intertwined, as well as some Eyehategod when the group decided to add groove to their otherwise painful, lurching sound. It’s a damn satisfying introduction to this band, and it’s proof that the funeral doom category is … OK, alive and well. That shouldn’t make any sense, but it does.

Foehammer coverThe fellows responsible for this unforgiving darkness go by simple first names (at least according to their Facebook joint), so the people you have to blame for your downturned mood and propensity to lash out at your scars are Jay (bass, vocals), Joe (guitar), and Vang (drums). Their approach to what is intended to be the most torturous of the doom subdivisions is to adhere to the primary traits of the style but also to not paint by numbers. As noted, the band can get on a bluesy kick at times, channeling their inner Sabbath, but also can settle into mind-altering regions that make you wonder if their funeral isn’t taking place in the stars.

“Final Grail” gets things started with doom fury hanging in the air, a threatening, ominous vibe being set, and that’s when the muck arrives. The band starts pounding away hard, with harsh, painful vocals being emitted, some killer Tony Iommi-style guitar melodies splashing colors, and that aforementioned groove being achieved, letting you bang your head amid your tears. The back end gets cleaner and a little foggy, as they disorient you with their approach before reigniting the fire and burning your eyes down the home stretch. “Stormcrow” runs 10:18, and it starts into a spacey, bizarre haze from which meaty riffs emerge. The assault takes its time, with the vocals sounding hellish and feral and the band switching back and forth between earthly woe and cosmic terror. There is some swaggering again, an element they mix into their sound so well, but also slurring, drunken guitars, growls that incinerate you, and a vibe that conjures the sense of utter hopelessness and despair.

Mammoth closer “Jotnar” runs a massive 14:29 and makes the violent best out of its running time. Drone rings out and stings the nerve endings, leading to the drums erupting and looking to pulverize bones. The band launches into a slow-paced, oppressively heavy section, with the bass taking some of the lead and pulling you through the mire and the music sounding miserable and relentless. As the song goes on and collects mud, the assault gets nastier, with gruesome drubbing and fiery soloing cutting through all and waging total war. Toward the last quarter, the melody changes up just a bit, giving a slightly darker shadow to it all, and the band spends its final moments smashing your wounds, chewing on your open cuts, and making sure not one ounce of you isn’t in total, complete agony.

If you have a thirst for doom, especially the slow, calculated style, you need to make friends with Foehammer. In this one debut EP, they prove a penchant for darkness as well as a creativity that will prevent them from being painted into any corners. They are brutal, brainy, and colossal, and they will fit the bill just fine if you’re looking to fill a half hour with some of the darkest, most foreboding sounds the doom genre can offer. Hails to that.

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Stoner doom metal warriors Acid King end hibernation, offer comeback ‘Middle of Nowhere…’

Acid KingApparently we have stumbled onto the subject matters of spacey rock and mind alteration, through no real plans of our own. I’m now realizing that just about everything we are covering this week falls into that trance-out, thousand-yard-stare territory, and today is no exception at all.

It’s been a decade since we’ve heard from Acid King, that being on 2005’s awesome “III.” Since that time, the stoner rock and metal kingdom has grown massive, with plenty of bands clogging up the atmosphere and making this style into a bonafide sub-category. Funny thing, though, happened while Acid King was away. This style of music got a little out of sorts with so much commotion that we needed one of the pioneers of the sound to return and set things straight. And that they do with power and hazy strength on their great new record “Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere.” Offering up the digital release themselves and joining up with perfectly aligned Svart Records, this band is firing back in heavy, slow-footed motion that drubs you about the head and torso and make you see weird, spiraling shapes on your walls.

Acid King coverHaving formed in 1993 and with four records under their belts, most of Acid King’s lineup has remained together from the start. Out front on guitars and vocals is Lori S., an ideal spiritual leader for this record and the group’s two-decades-plus-long journey, as well as co-original member Joey Osbourne, who handles drums. Bassist Mark Lamb joined up in 2008, and together they sound like a formidable, foggy version of the band that will take you on a journey to the outer reaches of your mind. No chemicals needed, though having some might take you even further into the star-riddled void.

The record kicks off with a properly weird intro cut, that sets the stage with trippy bubbling, riffs that glimmer, and a glowing ambiance, and that leans into “Silent Pictures,” a 9:18 monster that drums up noise and stretches out before the riffs land. S’s vocals float in the air over top of everything, keeping you engaged and wondering where she and the band are headed. The singing then really begins to soar, with the leads burning brightly, the soloing levitating, and the drums rumbling and taking the song to its thunderous conclusion. “Coming Down From Outer Space” could not be more properly named, as the guitars create a thick drone, the tempo gets pushier, and S instructs, “Find every moment you left behind.” From there things get burly, though it’s also draped with a psychedelic curtain and rhythms that pounds you over and over. “Laser Headlight” is mucky and thick, with the tone reminding me a bit of L7 and the melodies buzzing hard. The guitars continue to show muscle with tasty riffs and excellent soloing that takes the song to its finish.

“Red River” goes 8:26, burning and chugging in a calculated pace, with the vocals haunting like a fleet of ghosts. The atmosphere surrounding this song feels humid enough to slap a thick film across your face as you confront their heat and get pushed into their sleep-inducing approach designed to help you see spirits behind your eyelids. “Infinite Skies” has a similar feel to it, as it plods along purposely and injects an extra sense of outer space wonder. S’s singing is as catchy here as it is anywhere else on the record, with things feeling druggy as hell and the guitar playing giving the track a sunburnt, desert-pilgrimage essence. “Center of Everywhere” rolls on for 8:45, and it begins on an ominous note, as the guitars make things feel doom rich and dark. The melodies have a strange effect on the body and mind, with bluesy playing dashing new colors into the scene and the vocals sprinkling stardust. From there, the song gets more menacing and a bit heavier, with echoes reverberating and the guitar work spitting sparks. The closing outro puts a nice, cloudy bow on the record, as the band lets out their last rays of darkness and light, returning these sounds to its original planet.

It’s heavily satisfying having Acid King back in our solar system, and the decade-long wait was more than worth it considering we were handed a record as fulfilling as “Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere.” This veteran band sounds as alive and scorching as ever, and hopefully this record is the starting point on a thunderous second phase for the group. Any band walking the stoner and psyche metal path owes Acid King a debt of gratitude for blazing the path as well as a heap of thanks for coming back and taking us on another mind-toppling journey.

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White Hills strip back sound, whip up fuzzy psyche rock gem on juicy ‘Walks for Motorists’

Photo by Chris Carlone

Photo by Chris Carlone

As often as we wallow in darkness and negativity in these parts, we have to shine a bright light every now and again. Much as we might not want to admit it, there is nothing wrong with basking in heavy music that actually makes you happy for positive reasons, and not because it jibes with your brand of nihilism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. But any time a true pick-me-up is in order, you could do far worse than reveling in the psychedelic fog of

NYC’s White Hills. This is one of those bands custom made for festivals like Roadburn, where heaviness, intensity, visceral experiences, and mind alteration all come together for the sake of a communal celebration. Ever since their formation a decade ago, White Hills have pumped out tons of releases, most on the mighty Thrill Jockey, and their latest “Walks for Motorists” is another blast of fuzzed up, raucous fury. The band actually strips things back a little on this one, going for a simpler, more direct approach, but that never does anything to undercut their power nor dull their teeth. It’s a damn fun nine songs we have here, and the music speaks to the spirit of White Hills and their loose, organic energy.

WHITE HILLS - Walks For Motorists Cover - thrill391 WhiteHills LPcover(1)The heart of the White Hills machine is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dave W and bassist/vocalist Ego Sensation, founding members of the group and its constant backbone as they’ve morphed through time. The band took a different approach to this new record, starting the songs on keyboard and bass and building from there, thus creating a different type of heaviness and dream haze than efforts past. But the music still is powerful, heavy in spots, and always intoxicating, and hearing the new material develop live—especially for those lucky bastards who will be at Roadburn—should be quite the experience.

The record gets off to a great start with “No Wills,” built on thick guitar fuzz, warped melodies, and gruff singing, with W wondering, “Do we dare to call ourselves creators?” The back end wallows in grime and leads the way to “LSD or USB,” a playful, ’60s-infused rocker that’s full of noise. Some of the sounds come off like an agitated engine firing up over and over again, with glimmery keys in the background, penetrating drone, and playing that will make your head swim. “Wanderlust” stomps right out of the gates, with buzzing lead guitar lines, maniacal singing bordering on psychotic, and the band later settling into more of a rock tempo that helps balance the insanity. “Lead the Way” is the longest cut at 8:53, with a scorching, calculating tempo that takes its time smothering you, strong and sunburnt soloing making it feel dry and summery, and the singing ever so slightly detached, like they’re fully control of the dream rocket to the sun. “I, Nomad” follows as a quick, zapping instrumental, where they keys are the primary ingredient and the music tastes like cosmic soup.

“We Are What You Are” sure comes off as a uniter, with scorching riffs, vocals that act as a callout to the masses, and declarations such as, “We are the light that sets you free.” The solos are scorching once again, and the band hits on a fiery finish that packs a satisfactory punch. “Automated City” is a different one, starting off with beats and then a thick bassline, with W’s phrasing reminding a bit of Dan Bejar. The bulk of this thing is awash in echo, giving it a really trippy glaze, and it spirals out into the darkness and the unknown. “Life Is Upon” you has an upbeat sense to it, which most of us metal heathens generally eschew, but what’s the point of all of that negativity? It’s easy to get immersed and lost here amid the poppier sentiments, the trade-off vocals, and the essence that feels like a grittier, heavier Raveonettes. The closing title cut unleashes key zaps and a wave of voice samples that swirl around and make you feel bizarre. The word “platelets” keeps getting repeated, so much so you might find yourself robotically calling it back, as all of the various sound elements come to a full boil and flood over.

White Hills, and this killer new album, are perfect weekend fodder when you need to ice over your mind or even for those evenings after a long day when you need something to give you a lift and fill you with energy. “Walks for Motorists” can help you achieve all of those things, and it’s one of their most exuberant releases to date. Or it can just help you trance out. Whatever you need, man.

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